PAX Aust Highlights: Tavern Fame

A few weeks back, I attended PAX Aust in Melbourne. It was my first time. And it was brilliant.

It was also my first time attending anything as an official writer (under the guise of GeekMom), so it wasn’t just a schmooze and cruise affair either. There was serious gaming to be had!

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Coding Kids are Computer Gods

You’ve heard the saying. In fact, you may have even said it yourself:

“We live in a technological age.”

Well, you’re wrong. So unbelievably wrong.

We don’t live in a technological age – sure there is plenty of technological stuff happening around here, but the level of resistance amongst general minions is overwhelming.

In fact, most minions don’t like technology. Most don’t even like science. Heathens.

However, if there is money in it – oh yeah, we’re all for that. Pay someone else to create the convenience for us.

Unfortunately, it is starting to reflect in our school systems as well. A recent study by the Australian National Assessment Program (NAP) compared computer skills of students from 2010 to students from 2014. They discovered the average computer technology literacy of students in both year levels had dropped. Significantly.

Curious to know the skills they tested? Year 6 students were asked to search for information on a website, format a document, crop an image, and create a slideshow.

Year 10 students designed an online survey, used software to add new levels to an online game, and created an animated video.

Now, of course, there are pockets of computing genius all around the world, so you need to remember this report shows the average. Some schools are pretty awesome – encouraging their students to use tablets and computers wherever possible. Every now and then you find a teacher who has included web development as part of the Year 4 HSIE assessment (remember: it does not have to be separate from the usual class topics; computer skills should be part of the bigger picture).

But you would also be justified in wondering why the hell computer skills are so dependent on the interest of the teacher and not the damn curriculum?!?

For example, Hour of Code is coming up (check out my contribution over at GeekMom for some details). Of course, I asked our school if they were participating – thinking, ‘Hey, it’s end of year and reports are already done. It’s not like it would be interrupting anything, besides teachers moving rooms.’

Apparently yes, it would be interrupting (what exactly, was never clarified for me) and no, they are not interested in a free and readily available resource to introduce coding to our spawnlings. It is not part of the set curriculum so it depends on whether the teacher is interested or not.

So what’s a poor geeky family to do amongst all this digitized doom and gloom?

Climb up on the backs of those lowly minions and rise above them all!

From what I can gather, you have two options. Choose wisely, young minion.

  1. Outsource it

No, you do not have to send your little spawnling to some off-site call centre (no matter how enticing that may sound…)

There are many organisations, both private run and non-profit, offering after school coding workshops.

I recently talked with Nicola O’Brien, owner of Code Rangers (Sydney-based). The reason I singled her out is because one of Sinister’s school mates goes to Code Rangers after school and raves about it. He thinks it is awesome to be coding his own games in Scratch, talking about Robotics, and even looking at a bit of App design.

Code Ranger 01

Photo courtesy of Code Rangers

Code Rangers is fairly new in the scheme of things – started in late 2014, but is now running classes across the city of Sydney. Apparently, many potential EG parents are aware of the discrepancy in computer skills in the schools. Instead of fighting the schools, they opt for workshops like Code Rangers to fill the gaps. And business is good.

Here’s the good stuff – The ratio boy:girl is about 60:40, and there is no “special focus” for girls or ‘pretty pink keyboards’ and the like. The workshops are very matter-of-fact about presenting computer skills as they are to everybody. In fact, they recently had a team of four (4) girls make it through to the finals in the Australian Search for the Next Tech Girl Superhero comp.

 

Code Ranger 02

Photo courtesy of Code Rangers

Oh frack, that sounds so kitschy. But it was a really good program teaching the girls the many steps it takes to build an app (and not just coding). Next year, they are looking at more programs for all the spawnlings: like the Australian National STEM Video Game Challenge. But more on that another day.

The thing I like about Code Rangers is their workshop style, rather than basic tutorial style. They use programs like Scratch and Python, with a bit of HTML CSS and Javascript when the need arises. Yes, when it arises – because they run their workshops with the initiative of the kids. They look at what the kids want to work on as part of their projects and run with the inspiration from there. Less ‘working’; More ‘supervising’. A sandbox style of learning.

Code Ranger 05

Photo courtesy of Code Rangers

If you want to have a taste of Code Rangers, check out their Open Workshops in Chatswood as part of Hour of Code. Not in Sydney? Check out the Hour of Code registrations list on their website. It will show you any of the schools and private organisations participating in Hour of Code anywhere in the world.

  1. Teach the kids yourself

Don’t have anyone in your area. Then DIY, minion!!

If you have totally rad computer skills, go for it.

If you have rudimentary computer skills, you can probably still get away with some basics. Start with Hour of Code, and some Scratch. Learn with your spawnling. Show them self-directed learning and they will be ahead of you in no time. Hour of Code has both Star Wars and Minecraft tutorials this year. Check them both.

 

HOC_Student_Progress_Screen_Shot_coding_level_Solution_11-09-15

Image courtesy of Disney Interactive

I recently spoke to one minion who homeschools her kids, and includes a lot of computer based learning. Nicci’s two kids started to learn code and animation this year and love it. They started with Scratch, adding Hopscotch and Mindstorms as they progressed. The kids are 7 and 11, but already they are showing strong interest in robotics and game development. They’re not too bad with the videos either.

So what does Nicci think about all of this? She loves how the kids think they are just playing games, like Minecraft, and yet they are developing some amazing basic coding skills. Skills that open up whole new levels of communication in our digital world.  How’s that for EG Parenting?

So where does this leave us? Well, to be honest, you need to go away and do some research. Yes, YOU. I’m not doing everything for you, remember you’re the minion. I’m just sowing the seed of curiosity in your mind – a very evil thing to do, but what did you think this was? The Rainbows and Unicorns Fan Club?

 

Batman unicorn

Image by Rosewine / Available for purchase on Etsy

Seriously though, you need to decide to what extent your spawnlings are interested. And let’s face it – they need to know some basic computer skills. Be honest about your own capabilities, and then source out some fantastic support programs online. Check out Scratch, Minecraft, and Hour of Code.

Over the next couple of weeks, I am going to post more stuff about resources available for kids to learn coding in their own time. I’m also going to outline all the elements of coding and program development – you do realise that it is not just coding a shoot-em-up game, right? There are a whole heap of different styles and elements to consider when asking if your spawnling is interested in computer technology. It might be art. It might be fashion. It might be comparative mythology. That’s why we need to focus more on STEAM and not just STEM.

We do not live in a technological age – we have a small minority focused on the progress of technology. But the majority are still too busy shifting off the responsibility to others; be it through laziness or fear of the unknown. If we, as a society, want to rely on the convenience of technology we cannot continue to rely on others to design and develop it for us.

As evil genius parents, we need to encourage our spawnlings to take us out of the Commercial Age of Convenience and in to the Technological Age of which we all dream. One day, robots are going to rise up and take over the world from the piddly little minions. And when that happens, it will be the spawnlings who can design and build the technology who will be Leaders. Gods.

They will be Evil Genius.

EG Parent Award #61

You are probably already aware of this one, and I’ll be honest – I really should have posted it last week. But to use a new catchphrase I am madly loving right now:

Image courtesy of Dad and Buried

Image courtesy of Dad and Buried

You really should check out Dad and Buried (Facebook). His blog is equally as funny. Although he is not the EG Parent Award recipient this week, he has been pretty darn close. It’s only a matter of time…

Anywho, the actual recipient this week is… Jonathan L (GeekDad) with his absolutely adorable 2yo.

It is not enough that she refers to the Protocol Droid as “Creepio”, but she has the sweetest little voice for the Imperial March. Well done, Dad!!

That kid is going to have a musical future. Mark my words.

I Want … A LEGO TARDIS!!

  
Kudos to Minion Kellie for telling me about this one. 

For a limited time, BBC / Doctor Who (Australia) had a full size Lego TARDIS down at Bondi Beach (Sydney).

Isn’t it beautiful? Doubly so- Lego AND Doctor Who. *sniff* I so want but considering the other Lego filling up the lair, I would be better off using the Lego bricks to build an East Wing. 

  
This special treat was mostly for me, and partly to promote the Doctor Who Festival in a couple of weeks (21/22 Nov). Unfortunately EG Inc is not going this year but I’m hoping to head some excellent reports from any minions who do. 

  
In the meantime, I will settle for every other opportunity The Doctor throws my way. 

I still want one. 

One Sith Lord at a Time

What is it about the bad guys that is just so good?

Image courtesy of Disney

Image courtesy of Disney

Disney just released a bunch of new characters and discs for their Disney Infinity range; more specifically the Disney Infinity 3.0

Now, while I wasn’t on the original bandwagon for the Infinity game, I am slowly converting over. Helps after playing a bit and talking a bit with the Disney guys at PAX Australia 2015 (you can read my reviews over at GeekMom). There is some real potential with this set. And where Skylanders seems to be on its way out with the spawnlings, Disney Infinity definitely seems to be growing in popularity.

Especially when they have the ownership of characters from Tron, Marvel, Pixar, and, of course, Star Wars.

Image courtesy of Disney

Image courtesy of Disney

While shopping today, Sinister was overly pleased to hear of my seduction to the dark side. Really really pleased. Like, started to expand his Ninjamas Wishlist. However, he wasn’t totally convinced that I was sold on the whole Disney Infinity thing.

And then he pointed out Darth Maul to me.

Again: What is it about the bad guys that is just so damn good?

Darth Maul wasn’t even a good bad guy. Let’s face it – <spoilers> he was sliced in half, brought back to life with ‘other legs’ and then died again. Like, dude – pull it together.

But he has a very sexy double-bladed Lightsaber. Coming from the person who loved the joh in Jiu-Jitsu, this was damn sexy.

And to be frank, I’m not totally convinced that the dark side is really the bad side. That might just be the EG in me, but there are times where the manipulation and the whining of the Jedi bore me to tears.

So yes – I am converting to Disney Infinity. I am willing to sit down and play it with the spawnlings.

And it took the weird ‘tattooed lady’ Sith, Darth Maul to seduce me.

Can’t wait to see the new characters when “The Force Awakens” is released.

EG Parent Award #60 – Physics

Sometimes the best examples of evil genius can come directly from your siblings. And we all know where they picked it up from (I’m looking at you, EG Grandma).

This week’s Award recipient (sidenote: can you really call yourselves winners? Sure, why the hell not!) … okay, the winner is not a parent. However, they have truly exhibited all the elements of evil genius that makes me sniff with such pride.

https://www.facebook.com/GeekParents/photos/a.299515633482231.53052.299266843507110/695327250567732/?type=3&theater

Image from Geek-Parents.com Facebook Page

It’s pretty self-explanatory. Ties in perfectly with our last Forensic Friday post as well. See, being an Evil Genius is educational as well. Found this one through the Geek-Parents.com Facebook page, but if anyone knows the original author tell them to contact me.

For more examples of sibling love genius, check out previous posts like One Sibling At A Time and also the previous winner EG Parent Award #50.

If you’re looking for updates on my recent trip to PAX Aus, stay tuned. I’ll have a three-part review coming up on GeekMom real soon.